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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
John 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-51

CHRIST THE LIVING WORD

(vs.1-5)

Revelation 19:13, speaking of the Lord Jesus, says, "His name is called the Word of God." As such He had no beginning: in the beginning He was there. In person He is eternal. Yet also, He was with God, which shows Him to be a distinct person. Yet more than this, "the Word was God:" He is a divine person. Then verse 2 is added to guard the fact that He was (and is) eternally distinct. In the eternal past, as in the eternal future, God is a blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Son then, as "the Word" is the pure expression of the thoughts of God, the blessed Revealer in person of all that God is. In verse 3 creation is ascribed to Him, He who has given everything being, and without whom nothing could exist. "In Him was life." Here is life in its pure, eternal essence, inherent in Him, as it is not in us. Indeed, He is the very Source of life, that strange, mystifying entity that defies all human investigation. Even natural life is a complete mystery to science: how much more so that eternal life so manifested on earth in the person of our Lord! That life in Him was the light of men. True knowledge and understanding is impossible apart from Him. This is of course spiritual light, another marvelous mystery, far greater than the mystery of natural light.

The light shining in the darkness, however, did not dispel the darkness around: indeed it is all the more brilliant because of this; yet people's darkened minds could perceive nothing of the reality and beauty of that light: rather they resisted it.

JOHN'S WITNESS TO THE LIGHT

(vs.6-13)

Verse 6 introduces John the Baptist, not mentioning his birth and early life at all, as does Luke's Gospel; but as "a man sent from God." Divine sovereignty ordained John as the forerunner of the Lord, simply to bear witness of the Light, with the object of awakening faith in people's souls. People are not usually so blinded as to be unable to discern the fact that the sun is shining: we need no one to tell us this. Yet mankind is in such spiritual darkness that he needs this witness as to the Son of God having come.

It is emphasized that John was not that Light, but only a witness of that Light (v.8). For people are always ready to give mere man great honor and glory, while dishonoring the Lord of glory.

But Christ is "the true Light," in infinitely pure contrast to all else that might be considered light, -- He who, coming into the world, lightens every man. It is not that this necessarily enlightens their minds, but that Christ's advent sheds light upon His entire intelligent creation.

But though the Son of God has come into the world, His light radiantly beaming upon the creation He Himself had brought into being, yet "the world did not know Him." Of course this is the world of intelligent beings, but insensate because of sin. Sad comment on the dreadful blinding power of evil over men's minds!

When coming into His own creation, His own did not receive Him, that is, of course, His own people, Israel. But Gentiles were the same: they too saw no beauty in Him, and were as guilty of His rejection and crucifixion as were Jews. Yet there were some happy exceptions, some who received Him, their hearts of course being prepared by God; and to those were given the right to become children of God. "Sons" is not the proper word here, but "children," for it speaks of the actual filial relationship of those born into God's family. While John constantly speaks of Christ as "Son of God," yet he speaks of believers always as "children," not "sons." Notice too that receiving Christ is synonymous with believing on His name. The context here manifestly implies reality in the belief. Chapter 2:23 uses a similar expression; but the vital reality was evidently lacking, for it was miracles that attracted those people, not the person of the Son of God.

Where faith is real, there is new birth. This cannot be "of blood," which is natural generation, no inheriting from parents therefore. "Nor of the will of the flesh," that is, all human energy or work means nothing here, no matter how determined. "Nor of the will of man:" the faith or zeal or intercession of another person cannot accomplish this birth for the lost sinner. "But of God." It is exclusively a divine work. Notice how these four connect with the four Gospels. "Of blood" would remind us of Matthew, Christ being of the royal line, but this did not make Him the life-giver. In Mark His diligent, faithful service did not communicate life. Or in Luke His perfect Manhood as Mediator between God and men, was not the source of life to mankind. "But of God." So John's Gospel presents Him as God manifest, the one blessed Source of life to man.

THE WORD BECOMING FLESH

(vs.14-18)

Infinite grace has brought the Creator down, to become flesh in incarnation. This is a magnificent miracle, that He who, infinite in deity (having no limitations), has come in bodily form, in Humanity assuming such limitations as are proper to true manhood. To us this is a cause of wondering adoration. Nor was this anything like a fleeting apparition , come and gone, but He "dwelt among us,"-- constantly among the common people, to be known and understood, manifest and accessible. Also, though in Manhood, yet the glory of His deity as the only begotten of the Father, was plainly seen by His disciples, "full of grace and truth." Notice, grace is mentioned first, for it is this that brought Him here. Verse 15 is a parenthesis, speaking of the witness of John the Baptist to the fact that, though Christ came after him, yet He is in person before him, and therefore preferred before John.

This wonderful manifestation is contrasted to the law in verse 17. Moses gave the law, but it brought no blessing. Grace and truth have actually come in the person of the Lord Jesus. Law demanded truth, but did not bring it; and it could not possibly bring God's grace, or favor.

More than this: the greatness of God's glory is beyond human conception, and never was seen by human beings. Yet the only begotten Son has in this world declared God. For He Himself is in the bosom of the Father. Only begotten speaks, not of His being derived, but of His unique, eternal dignity with the Father from eternity past. He has always been in the bosom of the Father. Only One who is Himself eternally God could possibly declare the eternal God.

JOHN SIMPLY "A VOICE"

(vs.19-28)

The faithful witness of John is now recorded for us. John was of the priestly family, but sought no place in the temple worship at Jerusalem. He was baptizing rather on the other side of Jordan, with multitudes coming to him from all Judea. Of course the Jews could not ignore this strange and powerful witness, and they sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to question John. Without human credentials, with no authority from either Jews or Romans, no advertising, no public display, who is this man? But John briefly answers, "I am not the Christ." He had no interest in talking about himself: what did it matter who he was? he was not the one Man of importance. Christ was the burden of his testimony, not himself.

They press him further as to whether he is Elijah (v.21), no doubt with Malachi 4:5 in mind. "I am not" is his curt answer. If this seems contrary to the Lord's words in Matthew 11:4, the answer is that, though in a spiritual sense John was Elijah (that is, a prophet of similar spirit and power -- Luke 1:17), yet the Jews had thoughts of a literal re-incarnation, which was not by any means true: John was not personally Elijah.

But they persist: "Are you the prophet?" They refer to Deuteronomy 18:15, the prophet spoken of by Moses, and who can be only the Messiah Himself, though the Jews did not discern this. John answers abruptly, "No."

Finally, to their continual urging as to what he has to say about himself, John quotes Isaiah 40:3 in referring to himself as merely "the voice of one crying in the wilderness." As to who this "one" may be, this is of no importance: it is his message that is important, "Make straight the way of the Lord." Rather than speak of himself, he will draw attention back to the Lord.

But these questioning Pharisees cannot understand Johns baptizing without better credentials, and they challenge his right to do this. He makes no effort to defend himself, but merely says he baptizes with water (a mere natural element); and turns attention back to his true witness as to Christ, One who stood among them, unknown to themselves, the lace of whose shoes John was not worthy to loose. Precious witness indeed! John is not turned from his purpose at all by Satan's cunning methods, and the interview ends. His single-heartedness in testimony is an example for every servant of Christ.

THE LAMB OF GOD ANNOUNCED

(vs.29-34)

Verse 29 introduces another day, as does verse 35 later, then verse 43. Each of these has details typical of succeeding dealings of God in grace. We have seen the day of John's testimony to Christ personally: now he presents Christ as the Lamb of God who bears away the sin of the world, and as the Son of God who baptizes with the Holy Ghost. Certainly verse 29 involves the blessed sacrifice of Calvary, the very basis for the eventual banishment of sin totally from this world. Note carefully it is not "the sins of the world," but "sin," that horrible root that has occasioned innumerable sins. It is only in a future day that this will be fulfilled. As to "sins," however, only believers can say that He Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). Yet John's words are a clarion gospel message for the whole world: all who will honestly behold the Lamb of God will be eternally blessed.

But in spite of John's ringing witness, he himself says, "I did not know Him," just as is said of the world in verse 10. He is not speaking of mere natural acquaintance, for their mothers were cousins, closely identified. but the glory of the person of Christ is infinitely higher than mere humanity: no-one can know the Son unless the Father reveals Him (Matthew 16:15-17). Only by revelation could John discern the great glory of this divine person.

But Old Testament prophecy, as well as the Father's revelation, had made known to John that this Messiah would be manifest to Israel. This was the basis of John's baptizing, which involved putting Jews in the place of death in acknowledgement of their total ruin under law. Such was the only proper moral preparation, in view of the presence of the Lord of glory.

Though John's witness in verse 32 refers to the occasion of his baptizing the Lord Jesus, yet John does not mention this, but rather the great and marvelous fact of the Spirit descending and abiding on Christ; that is, in fact, God's own witness to His

Son in His anointing Him with the Spirit of God. Again John says, "I did not know Him," emphasizing the Father's revelation to him that this anointed One is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Who can this be? Certainly no mere human! Indeed, one who dispenses the Holy Spirit to men must in person Himself be equal with the Holy Spirit. He must be God. So John bears decided witness, "this is the Son of God."

Verses 29 to 34 therefore refer to Christ's presentation as the Lamb of sacrifice, involving His great work of redemption, and as Son of God, involving His mighty work of sending the Spirit following His return to heaven.

ANOTHER DAY: A COMPANY TO DWELL WITH HIM

(vs.35-42)

This section now has a typical application to the present day of grace, giving us some underlying principles that clearly relate to the truth of the church, the heavenly gathering.

John is simply standing at this time, along with two of his disciples, but his eyes are drawn irresistibly to the Lord Jesus as He walks. As he contemplates the person and walk of this blessed Man, the exclamation arises involuntarily from his lips, "Behold the Lamb of God!" The admiration of his heart for the Lord Jesus cannot possibly contain itself. For verse 37 evidently indicates that he was not actually addressing his disciples. Yet his words have vital effect upon them: they leave John to follow the Lord. Often we influence others most effectively when we are not trying to influence them; for they can discern whether or not our adoration of Christ is genuine. We may be sure that John did not regret having his disciples leave him, in order to follow his Master.

The Lord's question to them, "What do you seek?" draws a lovely response, "Rabbi, -- where are You staying?" Their interest was not that of the crowd in John 6:1-71, Who sought Him because of the loaves and fishes (v.26). They are concerned about His own dwelling place. This is the true character of the church of God, having her inheritance with Him in glory. It is Himself they seek (Cf.Psalm 27:4). There is no doubt then of the joy of His own heart in inviting them to "Come and see." Where the Lord may have resided at this time, we have no indication, but it is more vital to us that this is typical of His eternal dwelling. They abode with Him only that day, but "we shall dwell with God's Beloved through God's eternal day."

Andrew is now named as one of the two men. The other may very likely have been John, the evangelist, for he never names himself in writing this Gospel, though he delights to speak of the faith and devotion of others. Andrew gives his brother Simon a simple, straightforward message, which is effective in bringing Simon to the Lord; Andrew's visit with the Lord had left him no doubts that this was the Messiah of Israel. Here is another wonderful character of the church today, the privilege of bringing others to the Lord.

Simon is given a new name, Cephas (or in Greek Peter) defined as "a stone." He is; now the Lord's possession, and one of the "living stones" of which he himself writes (1 Peter 2:5), for the church is Christ's special possession composed of living stones.

THE SYMBOLIC FUTURE GATHERING OF ISRAEL

(vs.43-51)

Verse 43 introduces another day, which is appropriately symbolical of the regathering of the godly in Israel in the latter days after the church has been raptured to the Lord's presence. Galilee reminds us of this godly remnant. In view of going forth there, the Lord Jesus calls Philip to follow Him. Notice, this was not so with the two disciples in verse 37: their following was spontaneous and voluntary. Now Philip is to accompany the Lord to Galilee, not to His dwelling. But we are told nevertheless that Philip was of the same city as Andrew and Peter. Just as the church of God began with a nucleus of godly Israelites, so of course will this be true of the restoration of Israel at the end of the tribulation: in either case they come from the same root.

Just as Andrew had found his brother, so Philip finds Nathanael, with the ardent desire to share with him the preciousness of knowing the Messiah, the One promised by Moses and the prophets. He does not hide the fact that Christ had come from Nazareth, a place commonly despised. For no doubt Nathanael's objection voiced the common prejudice of the Jews, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip was wiser than to argue the point, but is ready with the kind and practical invitation, "Come and see."

It is this, a personal interview with the Lord, that will persuade any honest person. In fact, as Nathanael approaches Him, the Lord Jesus speaks striking words as to him. He already knew Nathanael as a true Israelite, having no guile. This of course does not mean without sin, but having a character of honest frankness in confessing his sins (cf.Psalm 32:2-5).

Nathanael is puzzled, but the Lord answers his question by telling him that He had previously seen him under the fig tree. The fig tree is symbolical of Israel, once in fact dried up from the roots, but yet to spring forth in resurrection power. Very likely Nathanael had this in mind, and under the fig tree was both feeling and confessing the shame of Israel's desolate condition before God. This was a proper preparation for the Messiah. Now here before Nathanael's eyes stood the very One to whom he had been confessing! How quickly all of his doubts are dispelled as to who this is who so speaks!

There is no hesitation in his firm, decided confession, which beautifully illustrates the awakened faith of the remnant of Israel in the last day. When feeling the shame of their condition before God, they will all the more be attracted to the blessed person of the Son of God, the King of Israel!

The Lord observes the fact that Nathanael believed apart from seeing outwardly great things, as in the future he would, but because of the Lord's own words revealing that He knew Nathanael's inner being. Having been morally prepared for the Messiah, the moral proof was all he needed.

With a double "verily" or "most assuredly" the Lord assures him that he will see a greater manifestation of His glory in a coming day, heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. This will be the fulfillment of Jacob's dream in Genesis 28:12, indicating as it does restored communication between heaven and earth, once interrupted by the corruption of sin; but Christ Himself being Mediator, in whom restoration is accomplished. His worldwide title, "Son of Man" is used, as embracing not only Israel, but all mankind. The angels of God will minister rejoicingly, but in subjection to the Son of Man, for that age will be in subjection to His authority, not to that of angels (Hebrews 2:9).

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on John 1:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/john-1.html. 1897-1910.

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Sunday, June 16th, 2019
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